Ross Martin — the former Martin Rosenblatt — was something of a true Renaissance Man. As an infant, he emigrated to the United States from his native Poland. He spoke Polish, Russian and Yiddish before he learned to speak English. Later, he added Spanish, Italian and French to his fluent languages.
He graduated magna cum laude with a degree from the National University of Law. He also studied business and teaching, but Ross decided on a career in show business. He formed an early comedy partnership with future comedy writer Bernie West (All in the Family, The Jeffersons and Three’s Company), eventually branching out to radio dramas as well as Broadway.
Ross made his motion picture debut in George Pal’s 1965 sci-fi adventure Conquest of Space. Moving to television, Ross landed roles in Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky. His villainous take in Blake Edwards’ The Great Race led to the role for which be is best remembered — Secret Service agent “Artemus Gordon” in the sophisticated spy Western The Wild Wild West.
For four seasons, Ross delighted viewers with an array of costumes, characters and accents. He designed and created the make-up for his disguises himself, often surprising and confusing co-stars who didn’t recognize him. A near-fatal heart attack and a subsequent broken leg sidelined the actor from a number of episodes, but the series was eventually canceled due to concerns of abundant violence on TV.
Never one to sit still, Ross became a new phase of his career — voice acting. He lent his vocal characterizations to dozens of animated cartoons, including Sealab 2020 and Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home. He also made numerous guest appearances in episodic television, including directing several episodes of the comedy anthology Love, American Style. He even reprised his role of “Artemus Gordon” in two Wild Wild West reunion movies.
In July 1981, just after finishing a tennis match at a San Diego country club, Ross suffered a fatal heart attack. He was pronounced dead at a hospital at the age of 61.